When Matt Ryan returns to Waltham High School this year, he will be trying to defeat the school in a basketball game, instead of helping them win.
Ryan, a 2006 Waltham High School graduate, will take to the basketball court where he was once a varsity player, but this time he will be the coach of Bedford High School’s varsity basketball team.
“I guess I have mixed emotions, but it’s exciting,” Ryan said. “I can’t wait.”
At just 23 years old, Ryan has been told that he is probably the youngest high school coach in the state. He is not, however, new to the world of girls' basketball.
Before getting the Bedford coaching job, Ryan, a Waltham resident, was the assistant varsity coach at Cambridge School of Weston from 2008 to 2010. He has also served as the junior varsity head coach and the varsity assistant coach at Watertown High School last year.
This year, Ryan was the head coach of the eighth-grade Mass Wildcats Amateur Athletic Union travel team and the assistant coach of the ninth-grade group, both of which qualified to travel to Florida for the 2011 Division III National Championship.
While the ninth-grade team came in seventh place, Ryan’s eighth-grade AAU team went undefeated in the championship and took home the national title.
“That was definitely the coolest experience of my life,” Ryan said.
To get his girls to the championship, Ryan spent endless time on the court. Even when he was not in the gym, he said he would find himself scribbling potential plays on spare napkins. Still, Ryan credits his players with the players, which he considers family.
“I am nothing without my kids,” he said. “They have been so awesome at developing and becoming great on their own.”
As a coach, Ryan considers himself to be “old-school.” He does not believe that every player deserves equal time on the court, regardless of her skill level or dedication. Instead, all of his players work for each minute they are allowed to play.
Gabriella Coppola, who plays point guard for Ryan’s ninth-grade AAU team, said his honesty has made her a better basketball player.
“He gets right to the point,” she said. “He is not afraid to hurt your feelings in order to win, which is what I like.”
While coaching his various teams, Ryan said he also strives to teach his girls to act as one unit and to think as a group.
“If you look at any of my teams, we don’t have any one extreme standout player,” he said. “Everything is team-based and that’s how I like it.”
Ryan, who recently graduated from Framingham State University with degrees in history and secondary education, plans to increasingly focus on his coaching career more than a career teaching history. Lately, he has been thinking about trying to coach at the college level and possibly try his hand at men’s basketball.
“My goal forever was just to be a history teacher and a basketball coach in high school, but now that we are achieving so much success my goals are shifting a little bit,” he said. “I kind of want to get as high as possible and see where this can take me.”